NIGA Tradeshow: Operators can leverage free-to-play promotions to increase customer bases

April 20, 2022 8:57 PM
  • Rege Behe, CDC Gaming Reports
April 20, 2022 8:57 PM
  • Rege Behe, CDC Gaming Reports

Can free-to-play verticals be leveraged to make money for gaming operators? Is it possible to seamlessly integrate these verticals with casino operations for profit?

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During Wednesday’s discussion “Free To Play: Engaging Fans With or Without Gambling” at the National Indian Gaming Association Tradeshow and Convention, hosted by Victor Strategies Vice President Gene Johnson, panelists agreed it’s possible – if gaming operators fine tune their expectations.

“I think what you have to understand about free-to-play is how it fits into the wider puzzle of all these different things,” said Genius Sports Account Manager – Media & Engagement Christian Abbonizio. “The way we like to look at it is as a funnel. Free-to-play is at the top of the funnel, and then you can move down the funnel into DFS (daily fantasy sports). All the way to the bottom is your real-money gaming and your conversions to sportsbooks. You have to understand where free-to-play fits in, why it’s valuable in that context, and how it plays along with those other pieces of the funnel.”

Joann Pierce, GAN Vice President of Sales, says the use of free-to-play should mesh with an operator’s goals. Whether it’s increasing the number of new users or growing a database, collecting emails or as a pure marketing tool, it’s important to focus on an end result.

“You as the operator will decide what the player journey will look like,” Pierce said, “and how you’re going to market to a certain cohort of players.”

CEO and Co-founder Dan Kustelski of Chalkine, a customer-acquisition-and-retention engine for the sports betting industry, says one of the ways to leverage free-to-play is to allow customers to bet an NBA game using money lines or pointspreads, without having to wager real money.

“You let (customers) engage with that and start them with this process, because a lot of people just don’t know whether sports betting is legal or not,” Kustelski said. “And then, second of all, they don’t know some of the terms I just rattled off. So it’s really about educating your patrons. Your patrons are sports fans, believe it or not, and they actually want to lean in on whatever sports they’re fans of.”

At Wind Creek Hospitality casinos, free-to-play promotions are never linked to wallets. Instead, Wind Creek Chief Marketing Officer Ken Rohman said free-to-play is used to keep patrons connected to the brand.

“In a fashion, it’s not asking them to reach for their wallet that keeps them engaged with our brand,” Rohman said. “So the next time they want to go back to a casino environment, we’re at the top of their mind. We stay engaged with them. We place a value on time on device; we actually quantify that. … Our mission is to get another visit from that player and potentially get their next visit to be with us instead of at a competitor casino, by keeping them engaged with our brand.”

Pierce said that one way to monetize free-to-play games is to get players to purchase virtual points to continue to play. But if an operator is taking a longer approach by way of providing free betting experiences, that also can eventually provide dividends, according to Kustelski.

“You do it with as few friction points as possible,” Kustelski said, “to allow people to engage in and start to understand sports betting.”

Abbonizio said paywalls can also be an option for gaming operators who want to leverage free-to-play for profit. But there are other ways to commercialize assets. Abbonozio noted that some clients will solicit Genius Sports for help attaining a sponsor.

“For example, BetMGM will come in and sponsor an MLB game,” Abbonizio said. “MLB gets to offer this cool engaging product to their fans to get them in their funnel. But it’s actually paid for by BetMGM. And then you can do all these deep integrations with sponsors in free-to-play games, whether it’s a logo drop, or in legalized betting states you can do click throughs directly to betting partners.

“There are all types of ways to get value and squeeze value out of simple free-to-play games, even if you’re not doing things like engaging and actually drawing money from the user themselves. You can keep it truly free to play and commercialize it in other ways.”